German bishop says ‘why not?’ to blessing same-sex unions

A German bishop gave a nod to blessing same-sex couples on Friday, following a meeting with Pope Francis who has voiced his opposition to the practice.

German bishop says 'why not?' to blessing same-sex unions
Archive photo shows Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck in Essen in 2019. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roland Weihrauch

“If they (same-sex couples) ask for some blessings, why not?” said Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen, in western Germany, responding to questions from journalists at the Vatican.

The bishop, one of the vice presidents of the European Union’s Commission of Bishops’ Conferences (Comece), had been received by the 84-year-old pope along with other members of the delegation.

READ ALSO: ‘Sexuality is a part of life’: German churches bless gay couples in defiance of Vatican

He was asked by reporters to comment on the more than a hundred Catholic churches across Germany who in May held wedding ceremonies open to “all those who love each other”, whether gay, lesbian or heterosexual.

Part of the “Love Wins” grassroots initiative launched by priests, deacons and volunteers, the organised blessing of same-sex couples came in direct defiance of the Vatican.

In March, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Vatican body that defends Church doctrine, issued a note reaffirming that homosexuality is “a sin” and confirming that same-sex couples cannot receive the sacrament of marriage.

“We are a pastoral church for all its members, also for homosexuals,” said Overbeck, 56.

“The Pope is a pastoral pope, he told us that we must do what serves the people, so we do it.”

‘Cannot bless sin’

Overbeck said he was concerned about the dwindling number of priests in theChurch today.

In Essen, he said, about 20-30 priests die each year, yet only about one or two are ordained, a problem that could be solved were the Church to allow married priests.

“There are likely some well educated men, even married, who could do this service,” he said.

The Church considers that marriage is exclusively the union of a man and woman.

Early in his papacy, Pope Francis took an unprecedented welcoming tone towards the LGBT community, making the now-famous “Who am I to judge?” remark about gay people trying to live a Christian life.

But although he has said he approves of civil unions for same-sex couples, he has not gone so far as to give his support to the Church blessing same-sex couples.

The CDF, which was set up in 1542 to hear heresy cases, said in its refusal in March that although same-sex unions might have “positive elements,” they could not be blessed within the church as the union is “not ordered to the creator’s plan.”

While God, it wrote, “never ceases to bless each of His pilgrim children in this world… he does not and cannot bless sin”.

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Germany to compensate gay soldiers who faced discrimination

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government on Wednesday agreed a draft bill that would compensate gay soldiers who faced discrimination in the armed forces between 1955 and 2000.

Germany to compensate gay soldiers who faced discrimination
A German flag is sewed to the uniform of a Bundeswehr soldier in Dresden. Photo: DPA

Under the proposed law, which needs to be approved by parliament, soldiers
who were convicted by military courts for being gay, demoted or who otherwise
saw their careers damaged because of their sexual orientation, would receive a
“symbolic amount” of €3,000.

“We cannot erase the suffering inflicted upon these people,” Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told the RND newspaper group. “But we want
to send a signal” and “turn the page on a dark chapter in the history of the
armed forces”, she said.

The compensation would apply to soldiers from the Bundeswehr, which was
created in West Germany in 1955, and to troops from former East Germany's
National People's Army, founded in 1956.

READ ALSO: More Germans identify as LGBT than in rest of Europe

The defence ministry estimates that about 1,000 people would be eligible
for a payout.

Military court judgments against soldiers for engaging in consensual gay sex acts would also be quashed under the draft bill.

It took until 1969 for homosexuality to be decriminalised in West Germany, but discrimination against gay service people continued for much longer, including after Germany was reunified in 1990.

Gay soldiers could expect to be overlooked for promotions or removed from positions of responsibility, with senior officers often deeming them a “security risk” or a bad example to others.

That ended with a law change in 2000 that officially protected gay, lesbian
and bisexual people from discrimination in the armed forces.